Originally published in Marketing Land
Don’t get left behind the competition this holiday season.
The buzz around chatbots has been growing to a dull roar. Though consumers have been wary of bots due to privacy concerns and usability frustrations, the next generation of fast-learning, fast-acting chatbots is rapidly being adopted by companies looking to improve customer service and lower operational costs. In fact, Gartner estimates that by 2020, 85 percent of customer interactions with a company will be carried out without any human interaction.
In just a short time, retailers and customers alike will be plunged into the stress, chaos and excitement of the holiday retail season. However, if retailers are smart, this will be the year that they deploy chatbots to change the customer experience and transform the sales game.
To reap the full benefits of chatbots during the holidays, retailers must start reinforcing their current customer care funnel with bots today, leaving time to work out the kinks and ensure that these machines are truly intelligent before the madness of the season sets in.
Here’s why retailers should embrace chatbots in preparation for the holiday season:
1. Chatbots are smarter & more helpful than ever before
Many companies incorrectly assume that consumers don’t like chatbots because they don’t provide relevant context, providing off-base responses even though the bots request a tree-like Q/A and forcing the customer to eventually connect with a human representative anyway.
But that’s no longer the case. Today’s chatbots are equipped with natural language processes (NLP) and machine learning capabilities, meaning they understand the meaning of words in varying combinations, create context, learn intent and deliver a meaningful response. This helps to streamline the continuous shopping experience for customers, allowing them to bypass long customer service lines and avoid being put on hold for hours.
Consumers are already taking note of these new and improved bots. Approximately 25 percent of US households already use chatbots on a daily basis to conduct basic shopping needs — such as asking customer service questions, checking the status of an order and researching products, according to a recent survey (registration required). In fact, 83 percent said they would be more loyal to brands that offer chatbots.
Imagine chatting with a robot on Black Friday and that it could provide insights into the best deals, delivery estimates, product reviews — and complete the entire transaction for you, without your even leaving the house!
2. Bots make human employees more productive, and humans make bots smarter
Think about bots as the first line of defense in a frenzied battle during the holiday shopping season. While bots are fielding most customer inquiries, human employees are free to take on more complex and “personal touch” situations.
In addition to automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks, bots can gather customer information from interactions, social media profiles and browsing habits to provide humans with a comprehensive profile of each customer. This not only saves time but also helps companies deliver an increasingly personalized customer experience — and build an emotional connection with each consumer.
Many bots also can provide fast and astoundingly accurate recommendations for purchases and flag sales opportunities to the human team.
I’ve personally experienced the power of chatbots and their ability to deliver rapid, personalized customer service: While traveling recently between the East and West Coasts, I missed my connection in Chicago. Rather than waiting in a growing queue at customer service, I chatted with a bot via Twitter. Within minutes, the bot took down my information, verified my identity and located a new flight. After a brief confirmation discussion with a human employee, I was on another plane and home that same night.
It’s important for companies to remember, however, that bots are only as productive and intelligent as we make them. New technologies mean that most bots are self-learning, so they not only require constant access to new data, but also careful initial training. Before taking them off the leash entirely, it’s wise to embed chatbots into the call center and observe human interactions first.
3. Chatbots save retailers money
Perhaps the most compelling argument for retailers to adopt chatbots is also the simplest: Chatbots will save companies money.
By deploying more chatbots to take over time-consuming tasks, companies will reduce labor costs, improve sales and provide an extremely personalized customer experience. In fact, it’s predicted that chatbots could save businesses up to $8 billion by 2022.
During a fiercely competitive holiday retail season, the stakes to deliver fast, accurate and personalized customer service have never been higher. With mere weeks to prepare, the time to invest in chatbots is now.